The American Feminist
Pennsylvania State Legislature Recognizes the Unborn as a Human Life
Pennsylvania passed a fetal-homicide bill acknowledging the unborn to be a human life from the moment of conception.
The bill was written after the parents of a pregnant woman, murdered by her boyfriends, approached a state lawmaker requesting prosecution in the death of their unborn grandchild. The boyfriend was convicted of the murder of the woman, but Pennsylvania courts did not prosecute for the death of an unborn child. Human life, according to the state, started at birth.
The passage of the fetal-homicide bill changed this premise and recognized that life begins at conception. The House accepted the Senate version in September and Governor Tom Ridge signed it into law in October.
Nearly 25 states have laws permitting some kind of prosecution for the death of the unborn. The U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled on these laws, but they have been upheld by state high courts. The laws among the states vary widely in defining the stage of development at which prosecution is allowed.
California's fetal-murder law, which allows prosecutors to seek the death penalty, was upheld by the state Supreme Court in 1994. The Calif law applies to the intentional killing of the unborn as a result of intentionally injuring of killing the pregnant woman. It does not apply, however, to cases in which the woman has injured the unborn by drug use or other abuse. In July, an Illinois appellate court affirmed a first-degree murder conviction under a feticide statue there. Fetal-murder laws are written to cover cases of intent in which an assault of a pregnant woman takes place for the express purpose of ending a pregnancy.
The Pennsylvania law allows prosecution at any stage of the unborn's development and uses the definition of "unborn child" contained in Pennsylvania's Abortion Control Act: an individual organism from fertilization until live birth. This act was upheld in the 1992 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern PA v. Casey. The fetal-homicide bill, however, does not change or apply to Pennsylvania's abortion control act. Only the language in the law defining "unborn child" was used in this new legislation.
Under this law a person who intentionally or unintentionally kills an unborn child while intentionally killing or attempting to kill a pregnant woman would be charged with first-degree murder. A person who accidentally or negligently harms a pregnant woman and fatally injures an unborn child would not face prosecution. A drunken driver, for example, who caused an accident that resulted in the death of an unborn child cannot be prosecuted under the bill.
Fetal-homicide laws have been described as supporting and protecting women who decide to carry their babies to term. People on both sides of the abortion issue are watching this legislation closely because of the law's implications for defining when human life begins. Those on the pro- life side applaud the recognition that two lives exist when a woman is pregnant. The future of the Pennsylvania law could have implications in other state legislatures, which are watching its progress closely.Earlene Meyer, President, FFL of Montana
Reprinted from The American Feminist, Winter 1997-1998